San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Women in sports photography are truly unstoppable

Courtesy of Noelani Sapla

Sports photography is a challenging but thrilling profession. 

As a photographer, you usually get the best seats in the house. However, it comes with a price. 

Safety is the most important factor when it comes to shooting sports. You always need to keep your head on a swivel and be aware of your surroundings when shooting a game or event. Specifically, women in the profession need to make sure they’re doing everything in their power to stay safe because most athletes are usually bigger and stronger, so no matter how safe you may think you are, accidents still occur. 

On Feb. 16, during the Rams Super Bowl parade celebration in Los Angeles, Kelly Smiley , a former Daily Aztec photo editor back in 2018, suffered a brutal fall off a stage. Smiley was a two-time photo editor for The Daily Aztec and now is a photo editor for the NFL. 

“Unfortunately I fractured my spine,” Smiley tweeted. 

The video that went viral on social media shows Smiley backing up to take a photo of winning quarterback Matt Stafford and, unfortunately, falling backwards off the stage. Not only did Smiley fracture her spine, her cameras were also broken by the fall. 

Stafford and his wife Kelly were both witnesses to the accidental fall. The video shows Stafford walking in a different direction from Smiley while his wife attempts to check on the photographer. However, after her GoFundMe went viral online, Smiley’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were soon deleted after a lot of users online started criticizing her for old tweets from 2013 to 2014.

Like myself and many others, I was surprised by Stafford’s poor efforts to see if Smiley was okay. Although he is not a trained medical professional, I thought he could have at least looked over the edge or flagged someone to help. The Rams and the Staffords released a statement stating their plan to pay for her medical bills and camera replacements. I’m not sure if the Staffords were pressured by the negative criticism from the video to want to cover all of Smiley’s expenses, but I’m glad they are because medical bills and camera equipment are not cheap.

Today, I am the current photo editor for The Daily Aztec, as a woman of color and someone that loves photographing sports. I joined The Daily Aztec because I have always dreamed of shooting college sports. At this newspaper, I have had many amazing opportunities to shoot many events and games. However, when I get the chance to photograph on the baseline or sidelines, there’s one thing that stands out: me. 

Standing at only 4 feet and 9 inches tall, I am about a foot and a half shorter than the athletes I am photographing. I have experienced athletes who have caught a touchdown that results in them being pushed out of bounds, the ball being thrown in my direction and dunks so intense their landing is on top of the baseline photographers. At that moment, the only thing you can do is try to get out of the way. Sometimes you’re successful and sometimes you need to duck and cover your camera. 

I know the risks it takes to capture photos that will live on for years to come. The atmosphere alone is enough for me to keep coming back. I grew up heavily involved in sports: karate for four years, basketball for seven and track for one. I also shot sports for my high school yearbook. The competitiveness is something I grew with and have always loved to be a part of. Now, with The Daily Aztec, I get amazing opportunities while getting to share experiences with my staff. 

The photo team is a well mixed group with both men and women. A lot of women are interested in sports photography with The Daily Aztec and it has provided many of them their first experiences with photography. I will always encourage and support my team to try new things, aware of the fact that my staff and I choose to put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations when we cover games. 

Although sports photography can become dangerous from a player falling on you, running into you or even getting hit with a ball, it still is something I hope to continue doing in the future while inspiring others to do the same. 

From The Daily Aztec, we also wish Smiley a speedy and healthy recovery.

Noelani Sapla is a senior studying liberal studies. Follow her on Twitter @lanishootz.

About the Contributor
Noelani Sapla
Noelani Sapla, Staff Photographer, '21-22 Photo Editor
Born and raised in San Diego, Noelani is a graduate student at San Diego State University working towards a masters degree in education. She joined the Daily Aztec staff as the photo editor for the 2021-2022 year, and is currently a staff photographer. She credits the Daily Aztec for the experience and opportunities to cover the NCAA tournament in Houston where the men's basketball team played in the national championship game. While having a degree in education and teaching, Noelani's dream is to become a professional sports photographer.
Activate Search
San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
Women in sports photography are truly unstoppable